Difficult as it might be to lose a highly talented offensive player, Darrell Mehl has had to move on. You could say the Churchill High School head football coach has reached the fifth stage of grief: acceptance. It was about two weeks ago that Mehl learned that his team would once again play on without running back Tyler Reid. As a junior in 2012, Reid tore through the Lancer’s first two opponents, scoring seven rushing touchdowns on 27 carries and 419 yards. But that was before he suffered a season-ending injury to his left knee after just eight carries in the second game. This summer while playing a 7-on-7 football game, Reid injured his other knee and will be out for his senior season. “It was a killer for us,” Mehl said. “We’re trying to move on. I’ve already done my crying and am trying to move on…We are going to run the same stuff without Tyler as we would with him. Obviously, we would be a little more explosive with him than without him.”
A year ago, the Lancers went on to finish 7-4 overall and 4-3 in the 5A Midwestern League. Without Reid, who Mehl said was offered preferred walk-on status at Oregon, Mehl must find a way to adjust with the players he has. And while he says this team may not have the amount of talent last year’s group had, Mehl likes what he sees. “Nobody expects us to do anything, certainly without Tyler,” he said. “We might not, but yet, we might surprise some people.”
The Lancers return 14 players who started last season at one time or another and 17 with varsity experience. Mehl said his team lost 23 seniors from last year. “We’re young (and) inexperienced, but we are a serious try-hard team,” he said. “This is one of the best practicing teams since I’ve been here. They work hard, are smart, and do a good job of flying around. Whether that translates into wins, who knows.”
Last year, Churchill turned to several running backs to compensate for the loss of Reid. The one returning player with significant experience at the position is tailback J.C. Moran. One of eight juniors on the team this year, Moran is back after finishing 2012 with four touchdowns on 104 carries and 439 yards. Senior Mike Monroy ran the ball 31 times for 88 yards and two touchdowns, but he will play inside receiver. In that position, Monroy caught 27 passes for 283 yards and two touchdowns last year.
At quarterback, Mehl will use two players to manage the team’s read-option offense: senior Brenden Nesbitt and sophomore Justin Kearney. Both saw limited action last year behind senior Mitch Reese, who threw for nearly 2,000 yards. Combined, they completed 2-of-5 passes for five yards. “(Nesbitt) is knowledgeable, throws the ball a little bit better and has a grasp of what we’re doing,” Mehl said. “(Kearney) is faster and athletic, but not as strong. I wouldn’t be surprised if we don’t play them both all year.”
Nesbitt and Kearney will target two particular wide receivers on the deeper passes, senior Spenser Schmidt and sophomore Junior Perez. Both are fast and tall, Schmidt is 6-foot-1 and Perez is 6-feet. “Those two outside guys are going to be our explosive-type players,” Mehl said. “Both are going to be good and can go the distance.”
Other returning players with experience as starters include offensive linemen junior Zach Bernardo and seniors Daulton Hankins, Josh Higashi, Mitch Hindrum, and Wyatt Imhoff.
Defensively, Churchill is lead by senior linebacker Trevor Johnson, second in tackles last year with 69 total and 36 solo, and senior defensive lineman Darren Kime, who had 37 tackles in eight games, and senior safety Alex Perez, who had nine tackles. Johnson, Monroy, Nesbitt and Hindrum make up the Lancers’ linebacker corp. “We have a nucleus of linebackers that are experienced and then we have athletic guys in the defensive backfield,” Mehl said. “We’re going to be fast and all of us will run to the football. Hopefully, we’ll have success that way on defense.”
“This group is playing hard like I want them to, and that excites me,” Mehl said. “But with all of our youth and inexperience, we are going to make a ton of mistakes. Hopefully those mistakes don’t cost us ball games…It will be interesting. I feel like if we don’t get hammered by a few (teams) early, lose our confidence, I think we’re going to be OK. I think we might be fragile. If (players) stop practicing as hard as they can, that will be a great disappointment. But I kind of have high hopes that these guys will get it done.”
Assistant coaches: Aaron Steigeler (offensive coordinator); Todd Kaanapu (offensive line); Don Bell (running backs); Gabriel LeMay (wide receivers); Les Duman (defensive line); Keith Lewis (safeties); and Aaron Crawford (cornerbacks).
Churchill Lancers 2013 Football Schedule:
- Aug. 30 – at South Eugene
- Sept. 6 – at Liberty
- Sept. 13 – at Eagle Point
- Sept. 20 – Ashland
- Oct. 4 – Willamette
- Oct. 11 – Marist
- Oct. 18 – at North Eugene
- Oct. 25 – Springfield